Skip to content

lamenting the end of winter

To my chagrin, winter is as good as over and summer is waiting in the wings.Summer is looked forward to every year like a long expected visitor.

To my chagrin, winter is as good as over and summer is waiting in the wings.

Summer is looked forward to every year like a long expected visitor. It’s fun at first, staying up long into the night, the non-stop activities, one jam-packed day after another, until you wish the guest would return to his home and leave you to recover in peace.

At least that’s how I always feel by the time June draws to an end.

I have already taken out our bird books in preparation for the migratory flocks, which must begin to arrive within the next two weeks, I imagine.

Sam and I are particularly untalented, if not hopeless, birdwatchers.

Much as we enjoy the busy flashes of colour around the cabin, identifying what is what invariably defeats us.

If one species has a revealing way of flight or telltale wingtips, you can be sure that instead we paid attention to the colour of the rump or the shape of the beak, which then turn out to be indifferent features on that particular bird.

Sam’s pee spot in the snow is a great attractant for birds, sort of a bush version of bird feeders, where whole swarms peck around and socialize, giving us time to compare them with the pictures in our books (which never seem to resemble the live birds in more than a most fleeting way).

It has become a spring ritual to fire off ignorant e-mails, requesting answers to the latest bird question, to our friend Willy in town. He can apparently identify a bird in the blackest night by the sound of its flight.

Despite our bungled descriptions, Willy never fails to recognize what species we saw, as becomes obvious when we look up his suggestions in the bird book.

Of course, it was a dark-phase immature male on the western limits of its migratory route, so easy to distinguish, once you know.

Every spring I’m tempted to dazzle Willy with a made-up bird name, such as a “stipple breasted late morning finch,” but for such pranks one needs at least a rudimentary knowledge of birds and that still eludes me.

My theory is that my difficulty with birds is the result of childhood trauma, caused when I fervently wished for a four-legged furry pet (preferably a dog but I would have settled for a mouse) and budgies were the only animals that my parents allowed.

This must have brought on a subconscious mental block about birds. I’m not sure what Sam’s excuse is.

While we wait for the birds, our seedlings begin elbowing for room in the cabin until they can be transplanted outside in a month or so.

True, fresh garden produce is a lovely side effect of summer.

Swiss chard and garlic pizza with tomatoes sounds very good right now.

If only we could restrict summer to such bonuses, but there is always the endless string of things to do that crowd out the fun stuff. It is partly the anticipation of this deluge of varied activities that is already causing me to yearn for winter again.

Summers are just way too busy, when bird watching, gardening, foraging, milling, building, town trips, shopping, visitors, visiting, fishing, paddling, hiking, and working are squished into a period of time that manages to be both too short and too long.

The frenzied activities of animal and plant life, with renewed mining exploration descending on the land like a plague of locusts, always make me wish for the sedentary pleasures of winter within a few weeks.

I cannot imagine myself as a snowbird in my golden years, leaving for southern climes when it gets cold here. If anything, I can see myself heading for northern Ellesmere Island for the summer, gazing out at the odd ice flow, should there still be some around by then.

How strange that few tourists come up here in the winter, which is the season that defines the North.

Winter only sounds formidable because that one word is used for the entire six-month period through which we recover from summer.

Surely, light-flooded April with its shrunken snow cover is a different world from the dark, frigid ice fogs of December.

To my mind, “winter” can be broken up into three sub-seasons; a topic I will fondly think about once we’ve mangled our migratory bird identification, the bugs are out, the garden is planted and summer is beginning to outstay its welcome as usual.

But for right now, I’m looking forward to spring. Willy, prepare yourself for our bird questions.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.